After an EMP strands Dan in Boise, he escapes to the Idaho mountains with his new friend, Holly. She's not entirely sure what she's gotten herself into. She's straight-laced, pragmatic, and comes from a law enforcement background. Dan is a vigilante who thinks murder is sometimes the best solution to a problem. He's also a weed-smoking drinker who's constantly spouting his personal philosophy, The Way of Dan. Somehow the two of them have to find a way to survive together in the close quarters of their isolated cabin.
All seems idyllic at first. Everyone they meet in their new community is kind and helpful. It's almost too good to be true, like they've each found a better life in the midst of this crisis than the one they had before. Dan and Holly spend their evenings sitting in a mountain hot spring with their new friends, drinking up the inventory of the local brewery and laughing into the night.
One charismatic neighbor in particular charms Dan with his larger-than-life personality, but his intensity concerns Holly. Does he have ulterior motives or is she just being suspicious? After all, everyone has their secrets, including Dan and Holly, but in such a tight-knit community can a secret stay buried forever?
Release date: May 25, 2021
Print pages: 349
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The Path Of Water: Book Two in The Way Of Dan Series
There are times in a person's life when everything slows down and they look at their hands like they belong to a stranger. They look at their face in the mirror and wonder who is staring back at them. They look up at their surroundings and wonder how the hell they got to this place they find themselves in. For some, that moment of introspection is related to something bad having taken place. Perhaps they woke up in jail or they're staring out the window of the prison bus after having been sentenced to a long haul. Maybe they're in drug rehab or the hospital after one of those "hold my beer" moments.
It's not always something bad that provokes this state of reflection, though. Sometimes those episodes of nearly disorienting introspection are associated with a rare moment of peace where someone can look back on their life with the satisfaction of a farmer who's just finished planting a large field.
Other times it may be because they’re sitting there shaking their head and thinking, "This is not the way I planned my life to be." What happened to that skinny kid who went to first grade in a turtleneck, homemade vest, and Sears jeans? What happened to that kid who graduated high school with such big plans? What happened to the young lady who planned to take the world by storm? What happened to moving west and living in a cabin or moving to the city and living in a loft? What happened to playing music for a living or traveling because money wasn't important?
Plans change. Life happens. Love happens. Kids happen. Sometimes the money doesn't happen when you need it to, then when it finally does, the moment has passed and the motivation is gone. Or sometimes the dreams just fade like a cheap tattoo, to where you can almost convince yourself that those ambitions never existed to begin with.
Who was that person who thought everything was possible?
The road from where Dan began life to where he was now had not been an easy one. There had been pain and poor decisions. Plans had been made, then either changed or forgotten. He'd lost people along the way, some because he'd driven them off and others because they'd wandered off of their own accord. It happened; the circle with which people surrounded themselves was not always comprised of the same faces.
He'd raised a family, but his wife had died, ripping the soul from it. Now his son and daughter were on the other side of the country while he was in Idaho, of all damned places, a stranger in a strange land. He'd come there to settle his best friend Carl's estate and been trapped by events beyond his control. Information was scarce but it appeared to have been an EMP—an electromagnetic pulse—which the North Koreans hid beneath the cloak of a massive solar storm event. It left an unknown portion of the country without power or any functioning electronics. Life was hard, but Dan was adapting as best he could.
Dan figured the best thing he could do for his kids at this point was to sit out the disaster and hope he'd raised them right. They were adults after all, out there in the world living their own lives. Getting himself killed on a cross-country journey wouldn't help them in the long run. He'd have to assume that the lights would come on eventually, then the nation would recover and he could drive back home like none of this ever happened. Air travel would probably resume at some point too, but Dan wasn't getting on a plane again.
Dan sat in a creaky Adirondack chair on the wraparound porch of Holly's cabin. It wasn't actually her cabin but had belonged to her ex-husband. When the electromagnetic pulse knocked the lights out, Dan had escaped Boise with Holly and they'd come to this cabin because they didn't know where else to go. Boise was going down the tubes fast and things were dissolving into chaos. Sticking around a city, even a small one, was a good way to die and Dan wasn't interested in dying right now. There'd been points in his life where he hadn't cared if he lived or died, but this wasn't one of them. Right now life had promise, it had peace, and he was at the age where he could appreciate the inherent value of those things even when he had little else.
The sun hadn't yet risen over the slopes of Greylock Mountain but it was close, the stark peak was silhouetted by morning light steadily growing bolder. Dan had a sleeping bag thrown across his legs and was enjoying what was perhaps the most beautiful scene he'd ever beheld in his life. The cabin they were staying in had been built back in the 1950s, in a pristine alpine meadow nestled among wooded slopes and harsh rocky peaks. Back in the day, before the government became so intrusive and started requiring permits for everything, the man who'd built the cabin had constructed a large pond that ran right up to the porch. The pond was stocked with trout and fed by a cold mountain stream.
Since arriving at the cabin two days ago, Holly and Dan had not done much beyond eating, resting, and getting to know each other. They were still relative strangers, thrown together by circumstance rather than familiarity. Their bond was formed more out of a gut feeling and the fact that neither of them had anyone else to rely on. Their partnership was forged more by the situation than any other factor, though they were both Tennesseans and found some inherent kinship in that. Neither had chosen the other. Instead, the world itself had thrown them together, placing them alongside each other on this journey, and they were in no position to question its wisdom.
It had been a rough trip from Boise to Atlanta, Idaho, high in the Sawtooth Mountains. Dan had made the epic walk on injuries he'd received in Boise. Blinded by a sense of Tennessee honor, he'd tried to kill the man who'd taken his best friend Carl's life and in the end, that man had nearly killed him. Even though it wasn't Dan who pulled the trigger on Carl's killer, hillbilly justice had been served in the end. A man who needed to die was dead and Dan was free to move on with his life.
Recovering from those injuries and from the walk to the mountains would take a while. Dan hurt from head to toe, from blister to bruise to bump on the head. In fact, it had been the soreness in his body that made it hard for him to sleep at night. He'd awoken early, crept out of the cabin, and settled into his new favorite chair in his new favorite spot.
He'd fished from this porch yesterday and caught their dinner. The eager trout, perhaps unused to any fishing pressure at all, took his lure with a simple trust that almost made him feel guilty, like he was eating a pet. Pet or not, it tasted delicious breaded and fried, and his body needed the protein.
Holly said her ex-husband, who'd inherited the cabin from his grandfather, had used it as a vacation house but had also intended it as a bugout location if things ever got bad. After he and Holly divorced, he'd moved further west and she suspected he'd be unlikely to make it to the cabin anytime soon. Especially since he had older parents and was more likely to stay with them than head for the cabin. At least that was what they were counting on. If he was to show up and boot them out, they had no idea where they'd go.
Although the cabin was reasonably well-stocked, it probably wasn't to the level of some of the other Idaho survivalist compounds Dan had heard about. He hadn't done much looking around the place other than to find a fishing pole, but Holly thought they'd have enough to eat for the short term. Dan wanted to get a better inventory of the resources at some point, but right now he felt like a stranger poking around someone else's house, which was pretty much the truth of the matter.
When a slice of orange sun crested the saddle between two peaks, Dan rose stiffly from his chair and hobbled inside in his sock feet. Blisters still made him favor the sides of his feet, forcing him to hobble like some ancient bow-legged cowboy. The cabin was an A-frame, a design popular among mid-century modern designers for its ease of construction. There was a tall wall of windows that looked out onto the pond and Dan's favorite chair. There was also a sleeping loft with a spiral staircase, where Holly had spent the night.
Dan had slept on the couch. Just because he and Holly were thrown together by events, it didn't mean they were that thrown together. Dan had suggested she take the bed while he spent the night on the couch and that had been that. No discussion and no argument from her. Thirty years ago his pride might have been wounded that she didn't offer to let him share the bed with her, but he'd covered a lot of miles in thirty years. While he didn't understand women any better than he had thirty years ago, he had a hell of a lot more experience at not understanding them.
He settled into the floor in front of an old Jotul woodstove, his body protesting and warning him he might not be able to get back up. There was a metal bucket nearby with paper for starting the fire. Dan pulled out the first item his hand fell on, an old copy of Rolling Stone magazine from the 1980s. When he saw it had an article by Hunter S. Thompson, one of his favorite writers, Dan set it aside to read later.
He went for the next item in the stack, an old tabloid like they sold in the checkout lines at grocery stores. The cover had a story about Bigfoot abducting a male hunter for sexual purposes. Dan chuckled at the story until he saw the abduction took place in Idaho, then it wasn't nearly as funny. He tore that article out and saved it, placing it on the copy of Rolling Stone to review later. If there was a horny Bigfoot in these mountains that was information he needed to know.
Used to heating with wood back home in Tennessee, Dan had the fire going in no time. When he was certain the fire had caught, he struggled to his feet. He was standing there stretching, a grimace on his face when he heard Holly on the stairs.
"How's the rheumatism, Grandpa?"
Dan smiled at her. "Hardy har har. I'll loosen up."
"You up for some breakfast?"
"I thought you'd never ask," Dan said. "What are the options?"
Holly reached the bottom of the spiral staircase and paused to stretch. She was wearing a bathrobe over her clothes, something she must have found here at the cabin, and her hair was in a ponytail. "There's some pancake mix that just requires water."
"Is there syrup?"
She nodded. "A couple of plastic bottles."
"It would be better with bacon," Dan mused.
"Everything is better with bacon, but we don't have any. Any plans for after breakfast?"
"I'm feeling like I need to move around today," Dan said. "Maybe check out the cabin and the outbuildings to see what we have to work with."
"Sounds like a good idea. I could do the same inside the house. Inventory the food and other supplies. I remember my ex hiding a few things around the place too. I'd like to check and see if they're still around."
After breakfast, they put on their cleanest dirty clothes and walked around the cabin to a newer outbuilding anchored to several concrete piers.
"My ex built this," Holly said. "There was no storage inside the cabin and he got tired of having to bring everything with us every time we came out here. He wanted to leave a grill, tools, coolers, and some other things. I don't know what all is in there."
"Do we have to break in?"
"No. He kept the key in the kitchen under an old ceramic cookie jar."
"Good, that means we can lock it back."
"We can, but we shouldn't have any problem with theft here. It's pretty remote country and neighbors watch out for each other. The town is pretty small. There are lots of characters and I used to know a few of them. It's been a while though."
Dan considered this. "Does that mean they know you're divorced? What are they going to think about us living in a cabin that belongs to your ex?"
Holly smiled at a memory. "Most of the people we met liked me better than they liked him. I'd like us to head into town today and take a look around."
"Why would I want to do that?" The hike to town sounded like a nearly insurmountable obstacle for someone who could barely walk around the yard.
Holly threw him a conspiratorial wink. "Because there's a hot spring in town. That's probably the closest one."
That gave Dan something to think about. Those hot springs felt pretty darn good. He not only had to be able to walk down the mountain, however, but he also had to be able to make it back up when they left the hot spring. That might be too much to ask of his battered body.
When they reached the building Holly opened the padlock, breathing a sigh of relief when the key worked. "I just need a shovel. Then I'll get out of your way and you can take a look around."
The gardening tools were stored in a blue plastic drum just inside the door. Holly extracted a shovel and headed back toward the house. Dan wondered what she was up to but didn't ask. He was sure he'd find out eventually.
The cabin was off-grid and a lot of the items in the storage shed were related to operating the place with no power. While there was a generator with two cans of gas, Dan had doubts it would work due to the fancy electronic controls built into it. He'd have to try it later and make sure. There was a large bag of charcoal, an old kerosene heater, and a spare one-hundred-pound tank of propane for the gas stove in the kitchen.
The blue barrel where Holly had found the shovel contained more digging and gardening tools. Several axes and saws hung on the walls, along with a basic assortment of the tools one would need to maintain a cabin. There was a shelf of screws, nails, and assorted hardware. There were a few sheets of plywood leaning against the wall and a stack of lumber that was either left over from a project or intended to be used for one that hadn't yet materialized.
Another shelf held tarps of various sizes, coils of rope, and two rolls of plastic sheeting. There was a selection of camping chairs, several coolers, and more fishing gear. Two tins on a shelf caught Dan's attention because of the word "survival" on the peeling paper label. They turned out to be survival garden seeds, a pre-packaged assortment of seeds designed to help someone grow their own food if the world went to hell. The can explained that the seeds were of the heirloom variety so seeds taken from the crops they produced would continue to grow more plants. These cans must have been part of the ex's bugout plan.
Though the building was newer and designed to be rodent-proof, the ex had taken measures to protect some items. There were plastic buckets with screw-on lids containing a variety of survival and camping gear, much of it unopened and never used. A couple of plastic trunks and footlockers contained more of the same, including some backpacks and army surplus sleeping bags.
A few more minutes of poking around gave Dan a general sense of what the building contained so he closed it up and threaded the padlock back into the hasp. He walked around the cabin and found Holly digging a hole a short distance away, beside the crumbling stone foundation of some long-gone structure.
"That my grave?" Dan asked as he walked up. "You going to kill me?"
"If I was going to do that, I'd have done it before we left Boise. Then I'd have been spared your whining and belly-aching the entire way here."
"Good point. What you looking for?"
"Those," Holly said, pointing at something with the shovel.
Dan looked into the hole and saw the ends of several large plastic pipes exposed. The ends had been sealed with threaded caps. "Don't tell me that's plumbing."
Holly shook her head. "Not plumbing. Stuff my ex hid."
Dan grinned. "Weed?"
"No, I never saw him stash weed out here so you might as well quit slobbering."
Holly tossed the shovel to the side and pulled a pair of slip-joint pliers from her back pocket. She dropped into the shallow hole and set to work unfastening one of the caps. "My ex and I sometimes had disagreements about...ethics. I was more of the social worker kind of cop. I was into following the rules and community policing. I wanted to make the world a better place."
"Nothing wrong with that."
"Yeah, but my ex was more of the old-school 'it's us against them' kind of cop. He was willing to bend a few rules, even a few laws, if he felt it served the greater good."
Dan took a seat on a rock when a blister on the bottom of his foot began to sting from the pressure of him standing on it. "What's that mean?"
"He wasn't a crooked cop. He'd never steal money or drugs, but there were times that he confiscated weapons off drug dealers that never made it into evidence."
Dan hesitated, then went ahead and said what he was thinking. "Uh, that sounds kind of like a crooked cop."
Holly squinted her eyes and rocked her head from side to side as if looking for a better way to explain it. "He wasn't on the take. He did his best to protect the public and put the bad guys behind bars, but he saw confiscating weapons as a victimless crime. He got them off the street. No harm, no foul."
Dan certainly wasn't in any position to point fingers. He'd covered up the death of a fellow student when he'd been in high school and he'd killed a few folks since he'd been in Boise. He understood that the concept of "ethics" could be a very personal and fluid thing. Most people probably wouldn't approve of his and he was fine with that.
"That's what's in those tubes? Weapons?"
"Yes," she replied. "This place was held in a trust. Something to do with taxes. It wouldn't be immediately linked to my ex if someone did a search of property that he owned. He felt more comfortable keeping the stuff here instead of our house in the city. He figured if a time ever came that we needed the weapons, it wouldn't matter if they were legal or not."
"He had a point."
Holly wrested off the first of the caps, the threads coated with a gooey white thread paste that helped maintain the waterproof seal. She carefully placed the cap to the side and stuck her arm down inside the eight-inch pipe. She extracted a greasy AK-47 butt-first from the pipe and handed it over to Dan.
The weapon was wrapped in clear plastic that was held on with duct tape. Assuming this was not a retail-market AK, Dan flipped it over to view the selector lever on the right side, finding it had that magic middle-position that meant it might be capable of full-auto fire. He looked back at Holly, a grin on his face, in time to see her pulling another just like it from the same pipe, this one stored barrel up.
"You know what these are, right?" she asked.
Holly nodded. "One of the other pipes has mags and sealed cans of ammo, but we're going to have to dig the pipes out of the ground to get everything."
"What's in the others?"
"A stolen M-16, more ammo and magazines, some confiscated knives. At least that's what used to be in them."
Dan raised an eyebrow. "No gold Krugerrands? No fake passports?"
Holly started working on another cap. "It wasn't like that. I told you, he was a good guy. He liked his guns though."
"I like his guns too but I'd be more supportive if he'd included a pound of confiscated weed in there," Dan mumbled.
"I wasn't always," Dan protested. "I worked my way back around to it. Reached a point after my wife died that I was going to do whatever the hell I wanted from then on. I was going to revisit my twenty-year-old self and pick up where I left off."
"So before you came to Boise you were a law-abiding citizen?"
"Absolutely." Dan held his hand up. "Scout's honor. Well, a stoned law-abiding citizen anyway."
"Weird as it sounds, my ex would never have stolen marijuana. He would have found that unethical."
Dan shrugged. "To each his own."
"I'm assuming you still have your friend Carl's stash with you."
"I do, but being stuck in such a beautiful location with no beer and a limited supply of weed seems unfair. It's a further sign that our creator has a sometimes wicked sense of humor."
Holly raised a finger. "Ah, but there might be beer."
Dan's eyes went wide. "Really? Don't be teasing me now."
"Really. During the summer, they get tourists here. You can hire a guide and go horse-packing in the mountains. People come to fish or hike. There are a few campgrounds and bed-and-breakfasts, so there are bars and restaurants that cater to those tourists. There's even a micro-brewery. Some of the businesses close in the off-season, so I'm not sure what's available and what's not."
"I like the sound of that." Dan stood and picked up the shovel. "How about I help you dig these out. We can clean them tonight by the fire and load some magazines."
"Oh, you're such a romantic. You know how to make a girl feel special."
Dan chuckled. She'd left him speechless. It was one of the things he was learning to like about her.
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